English title: Social Capital and Individualism – Collectivism at the Individual Level

Author(s): Mai Beilmann -

Language: English

Type: Thesis / dissertation

Year: 2017


Social capital – ties and social networks that are based on trust and mutual norms – has proven to be an extremely useful resource for individuals, groups, and countries, but there have been concerns that growing individualism in Western countries is weakening relationships between people and decreasing social cohesion in society. Individualism is often seen in a very negative light, as extreme egoism, and it is often forgotten that individualism may have more useful features, such as taking responsibility for one’s own actions. When equating individualism with egoism and simple self-interest, it may come as a surprise that several studies have shown that people in countries that emphasise individualistic strivings are also more likely to trust other people and to be more engaged in different social networks. The results of this dissertation provide some support for the assumption that the relationship between social capital and individualism–collectivism also follows similar patterns at the individual level of analysis, and that more individualistically minded individuals have more social capital. For instance, mature self-responsibility, which is one of the essential components of individualism, was found to be positively associated with social capital in an Estonian sample. Furthermore, more individualistic people tend to trust more people outside of their immediate family and belong to more social networks in all European countries studied. However, individualism–collectivism together with sociodemographic variables (e.g., age, gender, education, and domicile) explain only a small fraction of individual differences in social capital. This is in accord with established theories and previous empirical findings that suggest that the sources of individual-level social capital are located not so much in the characteristics of the individual, but rather in his/her social surroundings.


Awarding institution: University of Tartu

Number of pages: 145

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